I certainly don’t want to allay any suspicions, but I do find it quite intriguing that FIFA always seems to wait until days before the tournament to announce the method for the draw. Who will get the group seeds? How manageable will South Africa’s group be? Which markets (not teams, mind you) will be most protected?
Let’s answer the first one. South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Spain, England, and Germany are all going to be seeded. Who will get the other seed? It is among France, Holland, and Portugal. I would pick France. Mexican media has been insisting for months that FIFA will include a CONCACAF team as one of its seeds. I don’t buy it.
What about South Africa? How easy will their draw be? The only time I can recall a host team group that was marginally difficult was in 1994. The USA drew Colombia, Switzerland, and Romania. Compare that to France, who got South Africa, Denmark and Saudi Arabia. When Mexico hosted, it got USSR, Belgium, and El Salvador in 1970, and Belgium, Paraguay, and Iraq in 1986.
The only time I can recall a host team not advancing from the group stages was the last Euro, when neither Switzerland nor Austria advanced. But the Euro also seems to be the only tournament draw where teams aren’t sheltered or seeded. It is the purest draw we’ve got.
Compare that to the last Copa America draw where CONMEBOL not only made sure to put Mexico and the US in groups with Brazil and Argentina, but then made sure that the host Venezuela would avoid Brazil and Argentina in the quarterfinals. In fact, Argentina and Brazil were slated to be in the same half of the bracket had Brazil won their group. And the Confed cup earlier this year? South Africa was gifted a ridiculous group.
FIFA uses a convoluted formula to determine the seeds for the world cup, and chances are pretty high that whatever formula they come up with, it is to ensure that these 4 teams: Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Argentina, are seeded. The next four are whoever falls in line. If that is the case, then the world cup should be structured so that should they all win their groups, then they should meet in the semi finals at the earliest. You would get no arguments from me.
They should take it one step further, though, and use it to determine the top 16 teams. FIFA needs to realize that there are teams that play decent footie outside of Europe and South America. So those teams should not be punished because the rest of their confederation may not be as strong. Therefore, according to bigsoccer poster Edgar, whose blog is a very comprehensive analysis of the upcoming rankings, the groups of seeds would be the following:
8 South Africa
16 South Korea
My only caveat. The two seeded group-mates cannot be from the same continent. After that, all bets are off.
That leaves Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Nigeria, Japan, Australia, N. Korea and New Zealand In one remaining pot
Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Honduras, Chile, and Uruguay in the other.
Here is a sample draw
Group A: South Africa, Holland, New Zealand, Greece
Group B: Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, Denmark
Group C: England, Mexico, Australia, Slovenia
Group D: France, S. Korea, Cameroon, Serbia
Group E: Argentina, Switzerland, N. Korea, Slovakia
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, Algeria, Chile
Group G: Spain, USA, Nigeria, Uruguay
Group H: Germany, Ghana, Japan, Honduras
Not bad. One really tough group, but the others are all relatively balanced.
But if FIFA follows the blueprints from is last few draws, the teams that will have the highest hill to climb will be the ones who are stuck with the Asian minnows, either the remaining three South American teams, or the CONCACAFers.
1. Group seeds
3. CONMEBOL and CAF
4. CONCACAF, AFC, and NZ
What it means is that unless the US or Mexico draw South Africa, they are probably going to draw a very difficult group in which they will have to deal with two (maybe three) quality teams in order to advance to the knockouts.